Learning to learn: An important part of knowledge management

Melissa Wanda Kirowo is Advocacy and Communications Project Officer for the FCI Program of Management Sciences for Health in Kenya. This article originally appeared on the K4Health blog.

Earlier this year, I had the privilege of attending the knowledge management (KM) share fair in Arusha, Tanzania. After much reflection and many attempts at integrating some of the KM models that I learnt from the share fair in my work, I realized something very important: We have to be willing to learn how to learn to get the best out of what KM has to offer. What does this mean? Consider the following…

Our brains are very complex. They can synthesize abstract knowledge, store it as memory, and (ideally) recall it when needed. In this neuro-complex process, the kind ofattitude a person has about learning and unlearning makes a big difference! Thus, using soft skills to cultivate deeper connections to newer concepts and actually working them out is key. However, that’s easier said than done for some people. For example, as I continue to inculcate the culture of KM in a small way in my organization, I have learnt that people with technical areas of expertise tend to be drawn to the science of concepts that can be explained by scientific knowledge or experiments, and thus need encouragement and patience to try out anything new.

“As we age and gain more experience, we tend to rely too much on our past knowledge,” said Dr. Donald J. Ford, an expert in instructional design and human resource management. “We may miss or even reject novel information that does not agree with previous memories.”

That’s the good thing about KM—it draws a lot on people’s existing professional expertise and experiences, but also emphasizes the need for a collaborative spirit and a “can do” attitude during the knowledge exchange and learning process.

The Expectation Wall is a good and standard KM practice for any lengthy meeting. Participants “set expectations” at the beginning and then (hopefully) move them over to the “expectations met” area. (Photo by Melissa Wanda Kirowo)
The Expectation Wall is a good and standard KM practice for any lengthy meeting. Participants “set expectations” at the beginning and then (hopefully) move them over to the “expectations met” area. (Photo by Melissa Wanda Kirowo)

The Arusha Share Fair helped stimulate this “can do” attitude for me. I learnt a lot while I was there and am now able to share knowledge in some very non-traditional formats, using channels that help spark conversation and knowledge exchange among my colleagues in Kenya. The innovative and practical tools shared during the share fair (such as Photovoice, Net-Mapping) and the interactive and fun online evaluation apps for real-time feedback (such as Poll Everywhere and Kahoot!) are some of the exciting techniques that can change people’s interest and attitudes about learning. Introducing new tools that people can interact with and that they can use to connect with the others working on similar objectives is one of the best ways to get people excited about learning and also sharing what they know.

“Net Map” cards, developed by Eva Schiffer, graphically depict ways knowledge and information are shared in social networks. (Photo by Melissa Wanda Kirowo)
“Net Map” cards, developed by Eva Schiffer, graphically depict ways knowledge and information are shared in social networks. (Photo by Melissa Wanda Kirowo)

Furthermore, as Romano Fernandes, K4Health East Africa KM Advisor, says: “While knowledge sharing is very important for personal and organizational growth, it cannot happen without trust. Building a good relationship—connecting before sharing—is vital for KM to succeed.”

To that end, I’m now emboldened to use more one-on-one communication with colleagues to help build trust among my group and to create a safe space for people to accept that knowledge is fluid and constantly evolving. This kind of positive and generous attitude enables people to relax and open their minds and hearts to using new ways of learning and sharing, supported by systematic (and fun) KM practices.

Author’s note: My reflections are purely drawn from my experience following the KM share fair and this experience spans beyond what is shared here.

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